Vintage sewing: Wool houndstooth skirt (and matching cushions…)


This skirt suit pattern was one of the first I ever bought, McCall’s 7501. It was one of three vintage patterns I bought online a few years ago when I planned to learn how to sew, but hadn’t actually started yet. If I had been dressmaking at the time, I’d probably have known a little bit more about pattern selection and about vintage patterns in general – especially in terms of instruction detail.

Once I started sewing, I found the instructions for this pattern really vague and I basically made up how to do go about it, so the ‘vent’ is a back split instead. Also, I didn’t realise just how much ease they allowed for in the pattern. Quite a lot, it turned out. As in, inches and inches! Which is not a bad thing in a very fitted skirt (who wants to be trapped in a below-the-knee skirt they can’t walk or sit in?), but it did result in wasted fabric as I hacked into the side seams to make a neater fit.

Vintage Skirt Pattern

If I was making this now, I’d go for an invisible zip at the back (and measure the pattern pieces before cutting any fabric!) but I am really fond of this skirt. The fabric, in hindsight, is really not dressmaking material at all. It’s a fairly heavyweight 100% wool in a red and cream houndstooth pattern, which means it weighs a tonne to wear but is the cosiest thing in winter and looks great with a smart shirt or a warm sweater.

I like the below-knee length and the darts in the back worked perfectly in shaping the skirt towards the waistband:

Skirt back detail

Skills learned: How to adjust a skirt for a better fit; making a skirt slit.

Recommend pattern?: Yes, but it’s really not a beginner pattern. Or at least, not for the complete beginner who decides to have a lash at making a simple skirt and seeing how it goes. Otherwise, it’s a lovely pattern to use. I would love to make the full suit, using the pleated skirt option once I have a bit more experience – the red one on the pattern cover is gorgeous.

Well after the fabric cutting/hacking, I had some oddly shaped bits and pieces of this lovely wool left over. I’ve recently been trying to make our living room more coordinated and more cosy, and thought that this fabric would make some lovely cushion covers. I didn’t really have enough for a full cover so I cheated. Twice.


The first is an envelope-style one, but I’ve only used the red wool on one side (there wasn’t enough for a full side panel, but I could manipulate it to make the envelope opening) and grey polycotton on the other side. I feel I should point out that the envelope ‘flap’ closed over better before my cat decided she would squeeze herself inside for a cosy nap.

The second cover is a side-tie one inspired by this how-to guide from the British Sewing Bee. I decided to use what I had left of the wool as a contrast stripe along one end of the cover and to use a grey polycotton for the rest. Only, it turned out that I didn’t have much left of that either, so instead of fully lining the cover, I just created a false lining effect by making a kind of fabric lip attached at one end to the cover. It’s just tucked over the exposed end of the cushion insert and remains concealed once the ties are closed:

Cover cheat detail

The cushion inset does fit inside the cover shell, I’ve just pulled it out here to better highlight the ‘lining’ flap which encloses it.

What kind of fabric ‘cheats’ have you used to get the effect or finish that you wanted? I’d love to hear more tips for using spare bits and pieces!



Knitting inspiration: stitch ‘dictionaries’

Stitch dictionary

So the 1940s tunic/simple sweater I’ve been working on has hit a bit of a wall: I had bought more wool than the project apparently required in case I needed extra, but it turns out that I still need more. Unfortunately, I only realised this after knitting the front, the back, and most of one sleeve. There’s just no way I have enough to finish the second sleeve and I’ve been scouring the internet in a (so far) vain attempt to find just one skein from the same dye batch. Just one! Argh…

I’m trying to think of ways to salvage the project, but I’m putting it aside for the moment to see if the miracle ball of yarn shows up somewhere online. In the meantime, I’m turning my attention to Christmas present production.

Every year, I knit at least two or three scarves as gifts for family or friends and have found knitting or stitch ‘dictionaries’ brilliant sources of inspiration when designing scarves for different people. I bought this one (pictured above) in New York a few years back, after buying a copy for my sister who was then just learning to knit. I thought it would be really useful to have to hand whenever I would start to design my own projects and it’s been invaluable when it comes to scarves.

Stitch index

By outlining different types of stitches or different pattern plans, it’s really easy to modify them and to develop your own border and pattern combinations.

One of my favourite projects so far has been this red merino-mix scarf I made for myself a few years back using basketweave stitch with a moss stitch border. Although it’s fairly lightweight, it’s one of the warmest that I own and I just love the bright red colour:

Me scarf

I don’t have pics of the myriad other scarves I’ve finished over the past few years, but I’ll definitely be drawing on this book again in the coming weeks as I design a new batch of scarves for the festive season. I’ll post pics when the projects are underway, but I particularly love these three designs and hope to incorporate some of them into my plans:

Fancypants stitches

Vintage knitting – working with 1940s patterns

Several years ago, I came across a lovely book on sale on Amazon called Knitting Fashions of the 1940s by Jane Waller. The book has a great selection of patterns, but I found it quite hard for a beginner knitter to use given the limited sizing ranges (a more seasoned knitter would likely make the necessary adjustments without much hassle). I recently picked it back up again and am determined to see at least one project through!

Jane Waller's lovely 1940s knitting pattern book.

Jane Waller’s lovely 1940s knitting pattern book.

I’ve started working on the ‘pull-on vest’ pattern – which is actually for men, but I thought it would make a very useful short-sleeved woolen tunic top to wear with leggings or skinny jeans. Crucially, though, what drew me to the pattern was the simplicity of the stitches involved (basically, knits and pearls). Phew…

I think the style of tunic also means that the fit doesn’t have to be spot-on:

The 'pull-on vest' pattern from Jane Waller's book.

The ‘pull-on vest’ pattern from Jane Waller’s book.

The only downside is that I’m working with a 4-ply wool and that stuff takes an age to knit up (I’m using a stone grey from the Debbie Bliss Rialto 4-ply range). After about a fortnight I’m almost finished the back section, though, and the front follows exactly the same pattern so I’m pretty optimistic that I’ll manage to get through it without too much stress (and before the end of the year!).

I’ll post details of the fit and finish (the pattern is presented in just one size) once I’ve completed it.

Sewing resources in Ireland

Fabric stores are few and far between in Ireland, limiting a sewer’s options for finding interesting and inspiring materials. With that in mind, I’m compiling a list of each one that I come across as a resource to come back to later when planning or executing different projects. I’ve spent more time as a sewer in Dublin than the rest of the country so I’ll start there:


The Cloth Shop – lovely (though limited and quite pricey) range of fabrics at this South King Street shop. They stock a decent range of notions, especially zips and bias bindings, and lots of lovely Colette patterns. Their website is more of an intro to their business rather than a comprehensive resource for ordering from the store.

Fabric Select – impressive range of fabrics in a rather small shop on Parnell Street. Awkwardly, the prices aren’t marked on anything, which can mean a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with the shop staff. They do have a good remnant bin under the stairs though which can be well worth a rummage (the prices tend to be marked on that stuff, alright). Website is pretty rudimentary, but they seem to be quite thorough with phone queries.

Floppy Fabrics – based in Booterstown, this shop focuses on quilting and home fabrics rather than dress fabrics. I haven’t been in store in person, but their website carries comprehensive listings of their stock.

Hickeys – the Stephen’s Green branch closed a few years back, leaving the Henry Street store as their sole Dublin city centre outlet. They also have branches in Galway and Limerick, but I’m not very familiar with them. The Henry Street shop is brilliant for notions as well as all manner of sewing and knitting tools. Their dress fabric range leaves a lot to be desired though, being (apparently) primarily aimed at home ec students and costume-makers. Their website is pretty abysmal.

Murphy Sheehy – Interesting range of fabrics at this small Castlemarket shop (set between the Powerscourt Centre and George’s Street Arcade). Their fabric turns over fairly regularly, so it’s worth keeping an eye on them now and again, and they have really good sales on whatever manages to last long enough in stock. Their Facebook page is marginally better than their website, given that it’s more regularly updated with new fabric arrivals. (Neither is a great reflection on the stock, though.)


The Crafter’s Basket – I haven’t been in person yet, but they have a good online resource for sewing and knitting supplies. Their website is a bit clunky, but it’s by far the most comprehensive in terms of listing the store’s wares that I’ve come across in Ireland.


Hickeys – based in Galway city centre. They stock a good range of notions and a decent selection of wool and sewing and knitting patterns, but, as with the Henry St branch, their fabric selection is a tad grim.